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Copyright Center for CPS Online (UNH Manchester Library): Public Domain

What You  Can Do With Resources in the Public Domain

Public domain resources are not restricted by copyright and do not require a license or fee to use. Public domain status allows the user unrestricted access and unlimited creativity. You are allowed to use, adapt, and remix resources in the public domain. Works that are in the public domain in one legal jurisdiction are not necessarily in the public domain worldwide. Copyright laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, both in duration of protection and what constitutes copyrightable subject matter.

Types of Resources in the Public Domain

  1. Works that Can Not be Copyrighted: Titles, names, short phrases, slogans, familiar symbols, numbers, ideas, facts, dates, processes, many government documents and resources. This can be complex, as in the case of trademarks and symbols are actually logos. Their use may be restricted by other laws
  2. Works that Have Been Declared in the Public Domain by their Creator
  3. Works that Have Had their Copyright Expire: There are very explicit laws related to when a work falls out of copyright. In general these works include:
  • All works published in the U.S. before 1923
  • All works published with a copyright notice from 1923 through 1963 without copyright renewal
  • All works published without a copyright notice from 1923 through 1977
  • All works published without a copyright notice from 1978 through March 1, 1989, and without subsequent registration within 5 years

Congress has passed a series of laws extending the term of copyright. Currently, the default term is life of the author plus 70 years. That means that most of the copyrighted works created from the late 1970s to the present may not become public domain during your lifetime.

In general, works published after 1977 will not fall into the public domain until 70 years after the death of author, or, for corporate works, anonymous works, or works for hire, 95 years from the date of publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever expires first.

For More Information

The sites below will guide you to a cultural wealth of public domain books, images, illustrations, audio, and films where the copyright term has expired or the creator has not renewed the license. Remember, public domain works are free and available for unrestricted use. Enjoy and be creative!

This is the Public Domain Mark - It means the resource is free of copyright restrictions and may be used and/or altered to meet your educational needs.

Public Domain Symbol

Creative Commons has produced an excellent brochure on Public Domain

Guide to Public Domain Tools

Although works in the public domain are not 'owned' by anyone, a best practice is to still provide an attribution. Following is an example of an attribution for a resource in the public domain that you can add to your online course.  It uses the Creative Commons PDM tool.

This is an example of a copy of Alice in Wonderland, in the public domain, with a CC0 license. NOTE: The GSC faculty member is simply using the text, which they have embedded in their course as a teaching resource.They have not adapted or remixed the resource, but simply used it as it was presented. The faculty member claims no rights under this scenario, just noting that the work is in the public domain. Be careful with this; although Alice in Wonderland (the text) may be in the public domain, certain editions may not be - the best practice is to take a work from a public domain repository. In this case the book was taken from The Literature Project.